William Nylander’s offensive supernova key to spread offence

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
15 days ago
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William Nylander was an offensive supernova for the Toronto Maple Leafs, burning incandescently for the vast majority of the season. Nylander’s star briefly burnt out, exacerbated by an untimely migraine, before entering his nuclear fusion stage, reigniting his all-world creation in vain as the Maple Leafs lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
Nylander’s ongoing contract status was the topic de jour during the first half of the season, discussed ad nauseam on the airwaves, in print, and in fairness, on this website. After emerging as a down-ballot Hart Trophy candidate during the first half of the season, punctuated by an overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings in his Stockholm homecoming, Nylander signed an eight-year extension worth $92 million with the Maple Leafs in January.
Without further ado, this is William Nylander’s 2023-24 season-in-review!
All stats from NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick unless noted otherwise

The counting stats

Games playedGoalsAssistsPoints
Nylander exploded during the first half of the season and was the model of consistency, playing in all 82 games for the second consecutive year, while finishing 10th in scoring league-wide. He was more confident as a shooter and this quality was particularly noticeable on the power play, where Toronto hunted for Nylander and Auston Matthews’ touches almost exclusively. Nylander finished with 85 power play shots — ranking second amongst the Maple Leafs, with captain John Tavares posting 87 shots with the man advantage. He scored 11 power play goals, three short-handed goals and was effectively deployed in all situations, with an improved ability to turn takeaways into instant offense.
The 28-year-old averaged just under 20 minutes per game, the most ice time of his career and he became an increasingly important staple in the lineup as his lineup flexibility and ability to drive offense throughout the top-nine were the keys to Sheldon Keefe’s spread offense. Nylander’s ability to play either wing or centre allowed Keefe to get into his bag and spread Toronto’s Core Four across three lines, an alignment that doesn’t work without his versatility. He was a one-man shot-creation machine and submitted the fewest poor games of any Maple Leafs player during the first half of the season.
Nylander ranked sixth in the NHL with 316 shots in all situations, while converting at a 12.7 percent rate. For the third consecutive season, Nylander sported an elite turnover-to-giveaway ratio, squashing the outdated notion about his waning defensive effort. He would routinely strip opponents and turn it offense, while generating shots at an elite rate. He was Toronto’s second-best player throughout the season and his speed, skill, ability to burst through set defenses with his powerful stride in the neutral zone and increased willingness to shoot were all key reasons why Nylander submitted the best season of his career.

The fancy stats

By all accounts and the eye test, Nylander was one of the NHL’s elite shot-creators and line drivers this season, particularly in the first half. Toronto controlled just over 51.45 percent of the expected goals when Nylander was on the ice at 5-on-5, while being outscored 58-57 via Natural Stat Trick. He continued to threaten defenses with his pace in transition, finishing tied for 7th league-wide with 18 rush attempts at 5-on-5, while finishing 40th in individual expected goals — this is largely a function of Nylander being able to beat goaltenders from distance, as opposed to posting up net-front and banging away at rebounds.
Nylander’s per/60 numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as the counting stats, which may be partly due to being deployed on Toronto’s third line for the final quarter of the season. Toronto’s star winger allowed 2.98 goals against per 60, the 517th-best total among all 633 qualified skaters — for our intent and purpose, a minimum of 400 minutes played at 5-on-5. He was tied for 141st in goals for per 60 (2.93) — which is fine, in theory. Nylander tied with Mathew Barzal and was ahead of Dallas Stars burgeoning standout Wyatt Johnston, but you can surmise that he outperformed the predictive data on both ends of the ice.

The story behind the numbers

Nylander immediately augmented the John Tavares-Tyler Bertuzzi pairing, after Bertuzzi failed to gain chemistry with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner during the first quarter of the season. He recorded a point in Toronto’s first 17 games of the year and was a walking scoring chance. Nylander downplayed all discussions of a potential discussion but given that his contract is all that anybody wanted to talk about, attempting to turn the beauty and aesthetic value of his game into a cold, grey Keynesian economics lecture, it provoked him into the best scoring output of his career.
Although he’s a laid-back guy off the ice, Nylander is incorrectly viewed as dispassionate when all he cares about is winning. Nylander grew visibly frustrated with Marner during the playoffs and feels the responsibility as one of Toronto’s core members to elevate the team to an elusive Stanley Cup. He plays like a man possessed at times, particularly when flying through the neutral zone and his Game 6 heroics would’ve lived forever if Toronto advanced to the second round. Nylander’s ability to be deployed across three lines, his speed, inventiveness and playmaking were godsends for the 2023-24 Maple Leafs, no matter how the season ended.
William Nylander was a supernova for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was the first-quarter MVP, he stole the show at the NHL Global Series in Sweden and carried the team for large stretches alongside Auston Matthews. It was one hell of an individual campaign, even if the Maple Leafs are stuck in an uncomfortable, overfamiliar place this summer.

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